The Temple of Aphaia commands a promontory facing Athens and the coast of Attica on a pine-covered hill 12km (7 1/2 miles) east of Aegina town. One of the best-preserved and most handsome Greek temples, it’s so close to the mainland that both the Parthenon and Temple of Poseidon can be seen on a clear day (with the aid of binoculars); to the ancients, these three sanctuaries constituted a Sacred Triangle. Built in the late 6th or early 5th century B.C., on the site of earlier shrines, Aegina’s temple was dedicated to Aphaia, a goddess with the enviable ability to vanish into thin air to avoid unwanted amorous advances. No one really knows who Aphaia was, although it seems that she was a very old, even prehistoric, goddess who eventually became associated both with Artemis and Athena. According to some legends, Aphaia lived on Crete, where King Minos, usually preoccupied with his labyrinth and Minotaur, fell in love with her. When she fled Crete, he pursued her, and she finally threw herself into the sea off Aegina to escape him. She became entwined in fishing nets and was hauled aboard a boat. A sailor then fell hopelessly in love with the beautiful creature. So she jumped overboard again, swam ashore on Aegina, and, as her smitten admirer watched from his boat, vanished right before his eyes (afandos means “disappear”).
Thanks to the work of restorers, 25 of the original 32 Doric columns still stand, but the finest feature is missing: a magnificent pediment frieze depicting scenes from the Trojan War. The sculpture was carted off in 1812 by King Ludwig of Bavaria. Whatever you think about the removal of art treasures from their original homes, Ludwig probably did us a favor by taking the sculptures to the Glyptothek in Munich: While he was doing this, locals were busily burning much of the temple to make lime and hacking up other bits to use in building their homes. Still, the setting is so beautiful, you’ll hardly miss it.
Allow at least 4 hours for your visit if you come here by the hourly bus from Aegina town; by taxi, you might do a visit in a couple of hours.